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Dream, Fever in position for reconstruction after draft

The Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever each got the pieces in place for their respective rebuilds in Monday’s WNBA draft.

The Dream took All-American Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard with their first pick, and grabbed another All-American in Michigan forward Naz Hillmon in the second round to add youth to an already-revamped roster and coaching staff.

The Fever, which hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2016, became the first franchise in league history to make four first-round picks. They took Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith at No. 2, Louisville forward Emily Engstler with the fourth pick, Stanford guard Lexie Hull at 6 and Baylor center Queen Egbo with the tenth pick.

In the second round, Indiana snagged South Carolina guard Destanni Henderson, and in the third round they added Jackson State center Ameshya Williams-Holiday and Hoosier guard Ali Patberg.

The historic draft came after shakeups in the front offices of both teams. Atlanta hired former WNBA champion Tanisha Wright as their new head coach, and former Las Vegas Aces exec Dan Padover as their general manager.

The Fever brought in former franchise coach Lin Dunn as interim general manager after the departure of Tamika Catchings from that post. Both Padover and Dunn prepared strategically for draft night, with the Dream trading the Washington Mystics for the top pick just days before, and Dunn meticulously scouting collegiate players.

Both teams were pleased after the draft was complete.

“Rhyne is a special talent with a multi-faceted skillset, she’s going to be a great addition to our team,” Wright said. “She has a quiet competitiveness that I love, and I think the level of play in our league will bring something special out of her which I’m really excited to see.”

Dunn said the newcomers, led by Smith, would be utilized quickly.

“NaLyssa will have an immediate impact on the Indiana Fever franchise,” Dunn said. “The All-American and two-time Big 12 Player of the Year will provide immediate scoring and rebounding for our team. Her versatility will be a key to our rebuilding process.”

The Washington Mystics selected Ole Miss center Shakira Austin with the third pick, and the New York Liberty took Oregon forward Nyara Sabally at No. 5. The Dallas Wings chose Northwestern guard Veronica Burton seventh, and the Las Vegas Aces chose Colorado forward Mya Hollingshed and FGCU guard Kierstan Bell with picks 8 and 11, respectively. The Los Angeles Sparks took Tennessee guard Rae Burrell ninth, and the Connecticut Sun selected Michigan State guard Nia Clouden at No. 12.

The WNBA season tips May 6.

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